Hospital executives: Time to check your PR IQ

The world of healthcare communications is changing, yet the fundamental things apply as time goes by. It’s time to check your PR IQ with nine “true or false” questions.

1. Given the proliferation of online communications, traditional media no longer matters.
False. While the internet has redefined the way many people get their news, traditional media still carries an inherent trust not found in self-publishing. And while their numbers are dwindling, newspapers and television still deliver large audiences that many online outlets simply cannot match. Besides, what hospital CEO still wouldn’t like to see a positive story about their institution in the local paper or on the local TV news?

2. At time of crisis, your most important audience is your employees.
True. Employees represent your best vehicle to set the record straight but also are the group most likely to spread rumors (usually negative). Good crisis communications must begin with informing your internal audiences – employees, volunteers and physicians – of what is going on; what the facts are; and, most importantly, what actions you intend to take.

3. Your brand is your logo, colors and typeface.
False. Those are all executions of the brand but not the brand itself. Better to think of a brand as a promise you are making to your customers and your employees. Think of “the ultimate driving machine” or “the happiest place on earth.”

4. Good PR and marketing can sell a bad product.
True. But only once. In the final analysis, you need to fulfill your customers’ expectations with continued excellence and accountability. If you don’t do that, there is no communications plan in the world that will sustain you long term.

5. Messaging should be built around benefits.
True. Too much communication is erroneously built around features. A good PR program turns those features into meaningful benefits and then communicates those through words, visuals and appropriate channels that are understood, memorable and compelling to their intended audience.

6. Use the internet when marketing to seniors.
True. In 2000 just 14 percent of seniors were internet users, but today that number has grown to 67 percent. Of those, 71 percent log on every day or almost every day. Four in 10 seniors now own smartphones, more than double the share that did so in 2013. These numbers are only going to increase as baby boomers age. If your marketing strategy for seniors doesn’t include digital communications, just think of what you are missing.

7. Advertising is the best way to build your brand.
False. Studies have repeatedly shown that it is public relations, not advertising, that is most effective in building your brand and retaining your customers. In 2006 Starbucks spent less than 3 percent of its U.S. dollars in measured media advertising. Yet they have found a way to have not just customers, but zealots. Makes you think.

8. When giving a media interview you can speak “off the record.”
False. Those words should be stricken from your vocabulary. You’re always on the record, even after a reporter closes his or her notebook. When you play the “off-the-record” card, you are counting on the integrity and understanding of the reporter and that varies from person to person. A good rule of thumb is to not say anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing on Yahoo or in the New York Times.

9. PR plans should be built on a foundation of trust.
True. In this growing era of consumerism and transparency, organizations and their CEOs must be committed to practicing daily the four most important elements of trust: integrity, honesty, promise keeping and loyalty. Without trust nothing else matters, so watch what these CEOs do, not what they say. And, BTW, if you answered this question incorrectly or feel otherwise, you might want to consider if healthcare is for you.

Ross K. Goldberg is founder and president of Kevin/Ross Public Relations and former chairman of the board of trustees of HCA-owned Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Southern California. 

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